The original Sonora Bypass was originally constructed to remove traffic from the downtown area and relieve congestion on the main street. Since then, the East Sonora Bypass has been added to extend the original bypass along Mono Way. Today, Sonora capitalizes on its tourist draw as a historic community with a well-preserved frontier town.
Project Type:Bypass Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:55,000 Length (mi):2.20
Economic Distress:1.74 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):25 Population Growth Rate (%):0.36
Employment Growth Rate (%):2.19 Market Size:22,859 Airport Travel Distance:143.917 Topography:21
Region:Rocky Mountain / Far West State:CA County:County
City:Sonora Urban/Class Level:Rural Local Area:N/A
Impact Area:County Transportation System:N/A GIS Lat/Long:37.965432 / -120.393552
Initial Study Date:N/A Post Constr. Study Date:2003
Constr. Start Date:1985 Constr. End Date:1987
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): N/A Planned Cost (YOE $):31,600,000
Actual Cost (YOE $):45,100,000 Actual Cost (curr $):88,596,399
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
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NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
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Over a twenty-year span, the Sonora and East Sonora bypasses were built in Sonora, California. The first, known as the Sonora Bypass, was completed in 1988 to relieve downtown traffic congestion and support a growing tourist industry in the downtown area. Almost two decades later, the construction of the East Sonora Bypass (Stage I) extends the original bypass along Mono Way and now provides opportunity for future development along the corridor. This extension was built to encourage development along the corridor. The bypasses have helped support the tourism trade in the area, and the attraction of big box development. However, some gas stations, fast food establishments and small retailers have lost sales as a result of diverted traffic. No new jobs can be directly attributed to the bypass alone.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
The City of Sonora, California, located about 130 miles east of San Francisco, is the only incorporated city in Tuolumne County and the county seat. Both the Sonora bypass and the East Sonora bypass are rerouted sections of State Route 108 (SR-108), which original passed through the downtown, but is now routed around Sonora as a limited-access highway. The City of Sonora is located at the junction of two state routes: SR-49 and SR-108. SR-49 is the north-south link that travels along the Sierra Nevada foothills and connects Sonora with the neighboring Calaveras and Mariposa counties. SR-108 provides access west to the Central Valley and east to US-395 with no parallel options.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
Sonora is a well-preserved tourist frontier town with historic architecture and abandoned mines that hearken back to the 1800s. Historically, there were four main in Sonora ? mining, timber harvesting, saw mills, and cattle grazing. In the late 1980s, many mines operations closed and timber harvesting decreased significantly. As the resource-based industries declined, tourism became more important, as did the health care industry, which serves the growing number of retirees in the region. Sonora County has one of the highest populations of retirees in the country on a percentage basis, due to the large number of Bay Area residents interested in a slower paced, rural lifestyle. The area houses two well-regarded regional hospitals.
The land on the outskirts of the City of Sonora, but still within city limits, has become a developed retail and business hub in the foothill area. Stores such as Wal-Mart have attracted shoppers from Calaveras County and Mariposa County. The City has made a concerted effort to develop shopping centers on its fringes, offering progressive and favorable business incentives.
Sonora,established before the age of the automobile, has very narrow streets. Road improvements in the downtown have been constrained by an interest in maintaining the historic character of the city center. A one-mile queue frequently formed on weekend days, creating congestion.
Before the Sonora bypass was constructed, the Regional Transportation Planning Agency (RTPA) identified the downtown area as severe congestion zone and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) issued a development moratorium on the county until a solution could be found. Relieving this congestion quickly became the primary motivation for the funding and construction of the Sonora Bypass. Economic development played a lesser, indirect role in construction of the first phase of the bypass. The construction of the first section of the bypass lifted the moratorium on development. The original Sonora Bypass was adopted by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) in 1983 and opened to traffic in 1988.
Years later, the section of SR-108 east of the original Sonora Bypass began to experience severe congestion. By the late 1990s, traffic on Mono Way/SR108 reached 28,000 vehicles per day. With many retail establishments and strip malls along the corridor, any traffic turning left added to already existing congestion. This added traffic on Mono Way increased accidents and the road was noted for its high collision rate. To address these problems, the East Sonora Bypass was proposed and will be built in three stages due to funding constraints. For Stage I, the funding was secured in 1988 and construction was completed in 2004 at a cost of $31.6 million. Two more stages are yet to be built. The projected cost for Stage II, expected to be completed in 2011, is $67 million. Stage III has an estimated cost of $50 million.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
Interviews with local economic development and public works staff confirmed that the original Sonora bypass successfully rerouted traffic from downtown Sonora and allowed the community to develop into an active tourist destination. According to the Local Transportation Commission, the number of vehicles in downtown Sonora dropped from 24,800 to 9,600 after the bypass opened, eliminating the two-hour traffic jams that would sometimes occur on the weekend. Today, traffic in downtown Sonora has again risen to congested levels due to increases in inter-regional traffic on SR-49, added local traffic, and growing tourist traffic. According to the California State Highway Log, traffic along Washington Street was nearly 18,000 in 2001 and has returned to LOS F for many periods of the weekend days.
Stage I of the East Sonora Bypass did not have a direct effect on downtown Sonora, but it has relieved traffic congestion, and the number and severity of traffic accidents went down markedly. The Tuolumne County Department of Public Works estimates that the Stage I Bypass has diverted about 40 percent of the traffic from Mono Way.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
The diversion of pass-through traffic from downtown to the Sonora bypass route has allowed the city focus on attracting tourism to the city center. The growing tourism industry has supported the development of restaurants, antique shops, and cultural attractions in the downtown. Local motels and hotels originally concerned that the bypass would negatively affect their businesses have not experienced a decrease in customers. There has been a shift in retail mix in the downtown area, due to nearby competing businesses and retail centers that serve the local population.
The East Sonora Stage I Bypass has been credited with improving revenues at several grocery and retail stores. City officials believe the East Sonora Stage I Bypass has improved revenues at the Corner Shopping Center, located at the new interchange at Tuolumne Road. At the Junction Shopping Center, the anchor stores did not report a change in retail sales, but the fast food restaurants and gas stations reported losses. A 2006 Caltrans report noted that two restaurants lost 10 to 18 percent of sales, and a drugstore lost 10 percent of customers due to the East Sonora bypass. However, a grocery store reported higher sales along that same corridor due to its more highly visible location. Overall, there have been no net economic impacts due to the East Sonora Stage I Bypass.
The rise in property values around Sonora are most likely the effect of high economic growth experienced in California and Tuolumne County. New housing construction has been fast-paced, property values have skyrocketed. The building boom in Sonora peaked in 2004, one year prior to the completion of the East Sonora Bypass Stage I. The growth in Sonora has been slower than in neighboring areas such as Stockton and Merced. The business-friendly incentives of Tuolumne County helped to attract big-box retailers, leading to increasing in both traffic and sales revenue from the tri-county area.
California Department of Transportation and System Metrics Group, Inc. ?California Bypass Study. The Economic Impacts of Bypasses. Volume 2: California Case Studies.? Sonora and East Sonora Bypasses. May 2006.
City of Sonora Fact Sheet. Updated April 2007.
City of Sonora Website. www.sonoraca.com.
Kirkbride, Wayne. ?What is Tuolumne County's Economic Future?? Sierra Mountain Times. http://mysierramountaintimes.com/?p=3613. Accessed May 4, 2009.
White, Geoff, Patty Fuller and Chris Bateman. Union Democrat. ?Some much-needed road upgrades still en route.? http://www.uniondemocrat.com/2007052189638/Opinion/Editorials/ Some-much-needed-road-upgrades-still-en-route. May 20, 2007.